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Archive for the ‘Expat’ Category

Not what I had in mind

When I wrote the other day about noticing and appreciating what is new, interesting or surprising in my life, this is not what I had in mind.

In Estonia, snow in April is honestly not that surprising. It’s happened at least once during the time that I’ve lived here. But for the past few weeks the air has felt so warm and it’s smelled like spring. Everyone seemed so hopeful and happy that the most lovely time of year was upon us, but as it turned out, winter wasn’t quite done with us yet. At least I get to go on vacation soon…

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Something new in every day

I know I just wrote a post about change, but I feel the need to return to the topic for a bit. I know I rarely post anymore, and I think one of the reasons is that I’ve been living in Tallinn and working at the same job for 4.5 years now. Although new things do occasionally come up, there are very few aspects of Estonian life that surprise me anymore. It all feels so routine now.

All around me I see people experiencing something new. Blog reader Meg has lived in Sweden for a few months and writes about her new Swedish life. I have a few friends who just recently moved to Estonia and fill Facebook with breathless status updates about how fun and exciting it is. My own fiance just got a new job, as did my good friend in the USA– both of them are now in exciting positions that offer amazing opportunities. Seeing everyone else’s changes somehow makes my life seem stagnant… but I refuse to let myself feel negatively about it.

For one thing, I still love my job! I work as a translator, and while I don’t get paid a lot, I enjoy my flexible workplace, my great colleagues, and learning more about the languages I use every single day. So there’s that. Also, it’s not as if nothing in my life is changing– I am, after all, getting married in September! And I’m planning a wedding in Estonia, which is not something I ever would’ve guessed I’d ever do (but I’m so happy that I am).

What I’m trying to say is, I won’t allow myself to think that my life has somehow become complacent or boring. New and interesting things are going on all the time– I just have to notice them! There are aspects of Estonian culture I’ve still never addressed on the blog. I cook new things all the time. And then there’s the once-in-a-lifetime adventure of wedding planning! I haven’t run out of material– for some reason I just haven’t been thinking of my life as fun and interesting lately. Seeing other people discover something new has inspired me to adopt a fresh perspective and find something new and exciting in each day.

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I was going to write a Lent update today, but when looking at posts from Lent last year I discovered this one about J discovering how delicious peanut butter is. That actually never became a problem– he doesn’t eat it on a regular basis so my stash is still my own– but what I was floored by was how the price of peanut butter has changed. Less than one year ago, I wrote that I paid 3.50 EUR for a jar of peanut butter at the Stockmann grocery store (which, as far as I know, is the only place that sells the American brands). Do you want to know how much I paid for a jar from that same store about 2 weeks ago? 5.60 EUR.  That’s $7.50! I know it’s ridiculous, but I was desperate. Fortunately we’re going to the States again in just a few short weeks (I can’t believe we’re going again so soon!) so then I can stock up on peanut butter that isn’t absurdly overpriced.

So the price of peanut butter changing is clearly not so nice. But some change is good– like, for example, J getting a new job at an exciting Estonian company! Our everyday routine is much different now, mainly because he used to work from home so he’d pretty much always be here. Now he works long days and gets home after 7, which means I have some time to myself at home (which used to happen very rarely) plus I’ve been cooking more so that dinner will be ready when J gets home (yes, I’m such a good little soon-to-be-wife). Hopefully some of my cooking will make it onto the poor neglected blog eventually as well.

Oh, one more change just came to mind! Please don’t hate me when I say this (it kind of makes me hate myself a little bit), but I’ve become one of those people who loves exercising in the morning. I used to be a solid after-work-and-on-weekends runner and I thought that exercising before work would make me get sleepy during the day. But somehow I discovered that waking up just half an hour earlier and running before work leaves me feeling amazing for the rest of the day. I know, what an annoying thing for me to say… but it’s true! I must confess that there was also an external factor motivating me to get up in the mornings– every since the new year began it has been so hard to get a treadmill at the gym after 5 pm, but in the mornings? The place is practically deserted, and I rather like the feeling of having the gym to myself!

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Happy Shrove Tuesday, or as the Estonians say, head vastlapäeva! I last blogged about this day a few years ago when we made pea soup, which is one of the foods traditionally eaten on this day in Estonia. The other food associated with today is the vastlakukkel — a lightly sweetened yeast bun with the cap sliced off, topped with a hefty swirl of whipped cream and a dusting of powdered sugar. Some of them also contain jam under the whipped cream, like this one I picked up on the way home from choir rehearsal this evening. Yum.

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Trader Joe’s

Do you know Trader Joe’s? I’m sure my American readers have heard of it, but European readers probably haven’t. Trader Joe’s is a chain of grocery stores in the United States that sells a lot of gourmet foods, organic products, vegetarian foods, prepared foods and interesting snacks. Prices are kept low because the chain buys products and sells them under its own brand name. In addition to that, it’s  just a fun place. They often come out with new products so you never know what you’ll find when wandering through the aisles of brightly-colored packages.

Now I must confess that I haven’t actually set foot in a Trader Joe’s in years. J and I wanted to visit one during our last trip and ran out of time. (We almost went into one that we saw in Philadelphia, but we couldn’t find the door. True story). Luckily I have a wonderful friend who likes to keep us well-stocked with Trader Joe’s treats, so here are a few of their delicious products we’ve been able to try recently.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from these Lime & Chile Mixed Nuts. They’re a little scary– look at those chunks of dried chili peppers!

While they do have a kick, they’re nothing that two spice-lovers like J and I can’t handle. The nuts are perfectly toasted and the flavors (tart lime and hot chili) are potent, making this a unique and delicious snack. A little handful goes a long way.

And the dark chocolate-covered edamame? These might just be the perfect chocolate-covered snack. In case you didn’t know, edamame are soybeans, in this case dried and roasted (I think). The edamame are crispy and nutty, less dense than peanuts, and lightly salted under the chocolate coating. I think what really struck me was the quality of the chocolate layer— it’s pretty thick, not too sweet, and just delicious. And look, 7 grams of protein per serving!

One other product my friend gave us (but I don’t have a picture of) was the Chili-Spiced Mango— dried mango slices dusted in a chili spice powder. While dried mango is probably my favorite dried fruit, I wasn’t a fan of the sweet-spicy combination in this snack. However, J loved them and I can vouch for how quickly the bag disappeared!

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One of the first side trips we made after arriving in the States in August was to New Orleans, Louisiana (our “home base” was at my parents’ home in Maryland). Neither of us had ever been, and we discovered a colorful, lively city filled with the friendliest people ever! Let’s get started…

Before we had even reached our hotel on the first day, we walked past the famous Central Grocery, which I recognized immediately because pictures of the sign outside have been posted on many a food blog :). Despite the stifling heat, I was feeling hungry, so I told J, “We’re getting lunch from here,” ran in, and purchased half a muffuletta (wonder of wonders, there was absolutely no line when we passed by!). J has learned that when we’re traveling and I say, “Oh, we have to try (insert local specialty)”, he should go along with it, because it’s usually something good :).

The muffuletta, a cold sandwich of cold cuts, cheese and olive salad on round Italian bread, totally hit the spot. Some might find it salty, but J and I didn’t mind that one bit. We had also bought some drinks to enjoy with it. I thought I’d grabbed a Mike’s Cranberry Lemonade, but then I took a closer look at the can:Let me zoom in on the bottom for you:

Oops. But it’s ok– we were on vacation, after all ;). Later on I also got to try one variety of the local Abita beer:

I was surprised by how flavorful it was– somehow I expected something called “golden” to be light (not sure why).  It took me about two days to figure out how to pronounce the name of the beer correctly (if you’re ever there, ask for uh-BEAT-ah). That evening we discovered one of the most enjoyable activities in New Orleans (for us, anyway): buy a drink from a liquor store (in a can– if it’s a bottle, pour it into a cup before going outside) and then wander the streets, admiring the sights and laughing at the crazies on Bourbon Street. I loved being able to spend the evening (which was cooler and more comfortable than the day) exploring the city while also enjoying a few drinks, rather than being stuck in a crowded bar. Public drinking = 2 thumbs up :).

Some other Nola food:

Oh yes, those are none other than the beignets from Cafe du Monde. Here’s an interior shot:

Denser and doughier than a regular doughnut with bigger holes throughout, and topped with so much powdered sugar it was impossible not to make a mess. It made an excellent late-night snack (Cafe du Monde is open all hours of the day! Just another thing to love about this city).

Other local specialties we tried were po’ boys (an alligator sausage one and a fish one), hurricanes (too strong and too sweet!!), coffee with chicory (milder than regular coffee, in a good way), and shrimp etouffe.

This was my last meal before leaving the city, and it was so satisfying, absolutely packed with delicious tender shrimp. I love fresh seafood!

In my next entry I’ll talk about even more delicious Nola food, plus the awesome birthday gift I got from J!

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A birthday

This year marked the first time I’d ever been in Estonia for my birthday, August 17. Despite having lived here for a combined 5 years now, my two moves here (to Tartu in 2005 and Tallinn in 2007) both  took place in September, right after my birthday, and for the last few years I’ve managed to be on vacation in either the States or Finland on my birthday. So my 28th birthday was my first Estonia birthday, as well as my first birthday that I had to go to work… but that actually wasn’t even so bad!

My birthday started off on the right foot with balloons, cake and birthday gifts from J first thing in the morning at home (cake for breakfast is totally allowed on one’s birthday!). His gifts were great too– an adorable Muumi mug and some other stuff I’ll talk about later!

At work my day was filled with hugs and flowers from colleagues– it was fun to feel special and loved all day long, and to receive birthday greetings every time a colleague called to ask me to do something! As is the custom here, I brought in treats to share with my colleagues– wine, coffee-chocolate chip cookies, watermelon with feta, and a vanilla cake (from a mix) doctored up with mango puree and a coconut crumb topping. Ordinarily I never would have used a mix but it was just days before we left for vacation so I was short on time– forgive me? :). Luckily the cake turned out pretty good and the rich chocolate cookies (which were flavored with packets of Starbucks Via instant coffee) were a hit.

The rest of my birthday included a group run with my colleagues, after which I went home and ate more cake :). That was followed by dinner with J at African Kitchen, and then home to pack and watch TV together. It would’ve been nice to go out for drinks with friends, but unfortunately that didn’t fit into our pre-trip schedule– we were leaving for 5 weeks in the States two days later! It was a lovely way to start my 28th year (but yikes… why does 28 have to be so close to 30??).

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